Colleges increase athletic spending with hopes of joining Power Five

As the Big 12 Conference looks to expand, several institutions are jockeying for inclusion in the smallest of the so-called Power Five leagues.

It’s a familiar dance for midmajor football programs looking to go big-time, but it’s one that has taken on more significance in recent years as the five wealthiest conferences have pulled farther and farther ahead of the rest of the pack. Other Division I institutions are devoting increasingly large sums of money in an attempt to keep pace in an athletics arms race led by Power Five leagues.

For some of these programs, the ultimate goal is to earn a spot within those conferences — a risky plan in which colleges must keep pouring money into athletics to remain on the leagues’ radar without any guarantee that the spending will, in the end, pay off.

“It’s sort of like a gambler’s psychology,” said George La Noue, a professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County’s School of Public Policy who studies college sports. “‘I just lost $100, but I might get it back if I spend another $100.’”

From 2008 to 2014, the University of Houston transferred more than $100 million in institutional funds to an athletic program that — like most athletic programs — loses money. Last year, the university spent $26 million subsidizing its $45 million athletics budget. According to emails obtained by the Houston Chronicle and published this month, Houston …